Beijing doctors share top tips on protecting dry skin during winter

Top tips for the family from both Western medicine and TCM perspectives

Pollution, dry air and frigid temperatures: winter in Beijing is notoriously harsh on skin. Sometimes it seems like no matter how much lotion and lip balm you slather on yourself or your kids, it's never enough. So to help you prepare, we asked for the expert opinions of two Beijing doctors. What did we learn? Among a few small tips and tricks, prevention is key (so start early before the depths of winter really arrive).
The Western medicine perspective

The Western medicine perspective

Dr Natalie Miller

Visiting Dermatologist, Raffles Medical Beijing 

Winter in Beijing means harsh, cold weather and low humidity levels. The resulting dry air takes away natural oils from the outer layer of your skin. This weather also steals moisture away contributing to uncomfortable skin dryness, with the dusty wind making the problem even worse. 

On top of that, as soon as you get indoors and turn the heater on, the heat further robs the air of moisture and as a result your skin starts to dry out even more. Preventing a problem is always better than treating it. Two important strategies to help you manage through the winter include:

1. Try to avoid long, hot showers and baths. Keep bathing short and wash with small amounts of a gentle cleanser.

2. Apply a thick moisturiser immediately after washing and pat dry while your skin is damp. There are many excellent and inexpensive pharmacy products available. 

Despite these core preventative measures, some people still experience dry skin with a dull and tight surface. Unless the moisture is being replaced and the barrier of the skin has been replenished, the rough skin can turn into an inflamed and itchy winter rash. 

When this happens you need a topical steroid to calm the angry rash down. Some mild steroid preparations such as hydrocortisone cream can be bought directly from a pharmacy. However, when skin becomes severely dry it cracks and makes a perfect entryway for germs to sneak in which can cause a superimposed infection. This will cause your skin to change from being dry to being wet and weepy. 

If this happens it’s time to stop treating yourself and seek medical attention from a dermatologist who will be able to diagnose the problem and prescribe an appropriate topical or systemic antibiotic depending on the severity of the infection. And remember, it’s not only your skin that can be infected but also elsewhere in your body which could even lead to severe systemic infection. 

The golden rule for treating winter skin is ‘Prevention is the best medicine!’ Start now for healthy skin this winter.

The TCM perspective

The TCM perspective

Dr Sunny Kim

Family Doctor and member of the China Institute of Accupuncture and Moxibustion, International Medical Centre

Beijing What skin conditions can develop during a cold winter? 
The most common problem is dry, itchy skin. Decreased secretions from sebaceous and sweat glands can cause the loss of moisture from skin leaving it dry and chapped in winter. 

What causes the problem from a traditional medicine perspective? 
In TCM theory depletion of fluid, causing blood dryness, is the main reason for dry and itchy skin. Nourishing the blood and improving skin moisture are very important. 

How can we care for skin at home using traditional methods? 
When taking a shower, use warm water not hot and avoid scrubbing the skin. Use a moisture lotion after showering and before the skin dries. Try hard not to scratch. 

Drink plenty of water and avoid spicy or greasy food. Chinese date, Chinese yam and honey nourish the blood and skin. Make Chinese herbal tea. Put Chinese date, angelica, wolfberry and honey into hot water. Drink two-to-three cups daily. This tea nourishes blood and skin and the ingredients are from the market or pharmacy. 

What can a TCM doctor do to help that is different from Western medicine? 
The goal of TCM is to regulate balance in the body. A TCM doctor will suggest a Chinese herbal prescription that is just right for you. To do this we use Chinese oral and topical herbal medicines and traditional techniques like acupuncture and cupping. These treatments help improve blood circulation, clear away heat and detoxify. People who have skin problems also often have accompanying symptoms such as constipation, indigestion, insomnia, headache and menstrual problems. TCM treatment doesn’t focus on only one problem separately, but aims to adjust the whole body to regulate balance and promote a healthy body for life.

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